Monday, September 5, 2016

Featured Garment: "17th" Century(?) Jacket

Seriously, this piece is bizarre.  But I'm going to attempt to keep this to strict observations, at least at first.

Standard Disclaimer: This article is rife with opinions, as well as facts (which can mostly be verified through observation).  My intent in writing it is to educate myself, and promote discussion--i.e., if you have other observations or research, please post in the comments at the bottom of the page.

  Ok.  The Met museum states this as being a 17th Century piece, and British.  It was donated to the museum by one Mary Dykman Dean (wife of Bashford Dean, who founded the Museum's Arms and Armour department).  Other than the length at center back, that is all the information the museum has--I asked, and waited several weeks for them to get back with me before beginning to write this.

What we have here is a jacket or doublet, with two part sleeves (which lace or tie on), and a separate dagged mantle.  It has several unusual features for the noted period (unless....), and is made of a suede leather.  Six, overlapping, peplums are visible, as are a pair of pockets in the frontmost ones.
Taken as a whole, the outline doesn't look /too/ far off from doublets of the 1610s (excepting the mantle, of course), with the fairly square body, a waistline which is much straighter than earlier styles, and side seams which have moved towards the back.  The sleeves are closely fitted, and two pieces.

Now, on to details.

 Here, we have what could be essentially considered a jerkin--a short or no sleeved garment which followed the shape of the doublet.  To the best of my knowledge, the whole "detachable sleeves" debate--as to whether they actually existed on men's clothing--is still somewhat up to debate; however, I can point out that Patterns of Fashion 3 does have a oddly sleeved example on page 72, which has laced on sleeves.  Because of that, I feel they did exist (well, obviously they did.  Unless examples are all later period fakes), just were not remotely common.  Unusually, there no so sign of any collar.  There are six peplums total--an usually small number; 12-14 is much more common.

The cut isn't too unusual for the supposed period; while a heavily pointed waist is still mostly in style, there are examples of garments that have a nearly straight waist to go with the more boxy cut to the body (rather than being tightly fitted to the waist as in prior decades.  Sadly, I can't see how the shoulder seams go, beyond a hint of the left (as worn) one; following the slope there, it angles slightly towards the back--not at the top of the shoulder, but within margin of error--especially for a garment being displayed flat.  The armsyce shape is also within the margin for that period--the front is typical in shape, and the back exhibits a shallow curve to the angle.  Barely visible in the top of the armscye is an inset strip of leather--I suspect this is what the sleeves tied to.

Germany, 1615
Buttonholes:  The buttonholes are slightly odd--I can't quite make up my mind about them.  While the construction corresponds to another leather doublet from 1610 in Patterns of Fashion 3 [pp. 25]; no gimp thread (which appears in the next century), worked from the outside with close--but not fanatically so--stitches; there is about one thread width between each buttonhole stitch.  While prominent bar tacks normally appear on the buttonholes at this time, neither this, nor the other leather example doublet has prominent bar tacks (you can see rather small bar tacks on this)[Buttonholes].  The odd part is that they are apparently longer than the norm; the problem with this is that there are no surviving buttons, so there is no button size to compare them to.  I believe the buttons were of cast metal--likely silver; in another part of the garment (cuffs) you can see holes punched for the button shanks (where a strip of leather or material would be passed through them and tacked down)[PoF, pp. 19, 63].  The topmost hole for buttoning down the front is also peeking out.  There are 12 buttonholes, all showing signs of deformation from wear, with the top five save one showing the most.

Patterns of Fashion 3, page 25.  1610 Leather doublet
Detail of a doublet of Gustav II Adolfs. 
The next bit for me to discuss are the peplums and pockets.  As said, the garment has a total of 6 peplums (three on each side), which are at center front, side, and back; they overlap by maybe 1/4 of the total bottom width (each) towards the back.

On the other hand, the inclusion of what appear to be pockets in the peplums is decidedly odd.  However, it's not unheard of--the doublet of Nils Sture from 1567 also had a pair of triangular flaps on the front skirts (one of which had a triangular hole underneath for the pocket); this was also a leather doublet [PoF. pp. 68].  It appears, however that the flaps were sewn by folding the top edge of the flap under, and stitching with a saddle stitch (two simultaneous running stitches, performed with a needle on either end of a single thread [Carlson]) from the wrong side of the peplum, and right side of the flap.   The museum had no information or further photographs to share on the "pockets", so I don't know if there even are pocket holes underneath those flaps--they could be purely decorative.

Patterns of Fashion 3. Page 63.  Nils Sture doublet drawing.
 The buttonholes on the flaps are similar to those on the body, but even longer; in addition, the center one was not cut open.  They are...problematic.  Except for the lack of a gimp thread, they are of the form common from around 1680 to 1825 (narrow, elongated, and with tiny bar tacks on the ends.  They do shorten around 1780 [Buttonholes])--all of the garment's buttonholes are, it's just more apparent here.  Around the side and bottom edges of the flap, there are two rows of rather small (about 1.5 thread widths) decorate stitches, done in either back or stem stitch (it appears to be a combination, actually).

The sleeves are also quite odd.  While heavily curved, closely fitted two piece sleeves are common enough in the beginning of the 1600s, two major things feel off about them: how they come to a poitn at the elbow....and the cuffs.  In shape they do appear to be 18th century at first glance, until I dug deeper into Patterns of Fashion; I then noted that there was a doublet of 1618 with quite similar sleeve shapes.  I have already discussed the plausibility of them lacing on, and each sleevehead has eight finely worked eyelets.

Page 89.  Patterns of Fashion 3
Those cuffs are much more problematic...that particular construction with a buttoned slit and placket are known as "Mariner's cuffs".  It's problematic because they first began to show up in the 1740s, on coats worn by Naval officers, and became popular among civilians in the 1750s [V and A #467-1907].  There is a possible solution to this, though--it wasn't unknown for later generations to alter existing garments [V and A # T.357].

1750s Coat with Mariner's Cuff.  V and A Museum

And for the mantle.  It appears to be roughly 3/4 of a circle and is constructed of three pieces--two sides/fronts, and a back, plus a rough two part collar.  To my eyes, the leather doesn't quite seem to match the rest of the garment, and the stitching certainly doesn't; while the bulk of the seams are done in a double running stitch or a saddle stitch, the mantle is constructed with rough overcast stitch.  The patterning also doesn't seem to be as high of quality either--the dags are all slightly different sizes and rough.  The lacing wholes in the front were punched out, with no trace of stitching as there is in the eyelets at the sleeve head.  Near the middle of each shoulder there are a pair of punched holes which still retain a leather lace.

The last thing I am going to discuss is the decoration of the garment.  As stated above, there is no sign of any decoration on the mantle.  So; all edges--front, armscyes, cuffs and sleeveheads, and around the peplums and pocket flaps--all have what appears to be either a lighter leather binding them.  Initially, I thought this may have been silver gilt--possible, but the issue is that the silver leaf would have tarnished (see this 1640 buff coat); so it's either a silver allow which will not tarnish--not a metalsmith or illuminator, so I don't know if those were used.  Or it's something completely different.  This decoration is sewn with an overcast stitch on the wrong side, and a large running stitch on the right side.

Down each side of the front there are what I thought was four rows of back/stem stitch forming wavy lines.  Closer examination makes it apparent that these are two rows of saddle stitches worked through the top of the leather to form a decorative slight ridge.  The flap and edge of the cuff also have a similar decoration, neatly worked so that the line continues seamlessly.  The decoration I mentioned on the "pocket" flaps is also worked the same way, although in straight lines.  The fore-arm seam of the sleeves also appear to have a similar decoration, with the butted seam done in a visible scalloped pattern, and a design evocative of a crown on both sides of the seam near the top.

As said, the entire garment is made of a leather which has either been brushed or heavily worn to soften the skin side; there is no sign of a lining (decidedly odd, but not unknown for a leather jerkin [PoF, pp. 19]).  There are no traces of dye.

When I first saw this garment, I believed it to be a fake, possibly from the 1750s for a costume ball or theater production (interestingly, one of the things I learned while researching for this article was that actual theater costuming came into being around the second quarter of the 18th century--prior to then, actors wore clothing in the current fashion [Theatre]).  Now, I'm not so sure.  It is still certainly possible, but if it is, it was patterned after a period garment which was in existence at the time.  Because of the neatness and how the buttonhole styles, thread, and decoration match on all parts of the garment, I am forced to conclude that all parts of the body and sleeves are contemporary; the mantle on the other hand, I do not believe belongs with this garment.  It may be made of similar leather, but the workmanship and details aren't remotely close.  It does not factor into my conclusions.

To lay out the possibilities, the entire garment is either a fake from the 1700s; it was slightly cut down from a garment of an earlier period, so the buttonholes and decorations could be redone; or it is, indeed, from the first part of the 17th century--making this the earliest example of what later became known as a Mariner's Cuff.

What do you think?

Metropolitan Museum. Jacket. #C.I.50.98.4a–d. . [Accessed 7-11-16]

Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 3. (Macmillan, 1985). Pages. 25, 63, 85
Frey, John.  Buttonholes Through the Ages. (Last update 6-18-16). [Accessed 7-12-16]
V and A Museum. Coat Summary #467-1907. . [Accessed 7-12-16]
V and A Museum. Coat Summary #T.357-1980.  [Accessed 7-12-16]
No Author. The 18th-century theatre experience: Henry Fielding’s The Author’s Farce. (Blog post, 10-13-2012). . [Accessed 7-12-16]

© John Frey, 2016. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.  Photographs of my work may not be duplicated.

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